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On Writing [Paperback]

Stephen King
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (259 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Sep 2001
Find out what books and films influenced the young writer, his first idea for a story and the true life tale that inspired CARRIE. For the first time, here's an intimate autobiographical portrait of his home life, his family and his traumatic recent accident. Citing examples of his work and those of his contemporaries, King gives an excellent masterclass on writing - how to use the tools of the trade from building characters to pace and plotting as well as practical advice on presentation. And King tells readers how he got to be a No. 1 bestseller for a quarter of a century with fascinating descriptions of his own process, the origins and development of, e.g. CARRIE and MISERY.

Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks; New edition edition (1 Sep 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034076998X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340769980
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 13 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (259 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 363,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

Short and snappy as it is, Stephen King's On Writing really contains two books: a fondly sardonic autobiography and a tough-love lesson for aspiring novelists. The memoir is terrific stuff, a vivid description of how a writer grew out of a misbehaving kid. You are right there with the young author as he is tormented by poison ivy, gas-passing baby-sitters, uptight schoolmarms and a laundry job nastier than Jack London's. It's a ripping yarn that casts a sharp light on his fiction. This was a child who dug Yvette Vickers from Attack of the Giant Leeches, not Sandra Dee. "I wanted monsters that ate whole cities, radioactive corpses that came out of the ocean and ate surfers and girls in black bras who looked like trailer trash". But massive reading on all literary levels was a craving just as crucial, and soon King was the published author of "I Was a Teen-Age Graverobber". As a young adult raising a family in a trailer, King started a story inspired by his stint as a caretaker cleaning a high-school girls' locker room. He crumpled it up, but his writer wife retrieved it from the trash, and using her advice about the girl milieu and his own memories of two reviled teenage classmates who died young, he came up with Carrie. King gives us lots of revelations about his life and work. The kidnapper character in Misery, the mind-possessing monsters in The Tommyknockers, and the haunting of the blocked writer in The Shining symbolised his cocaine and booze addiction (overcome thanks to his wife's intervention, which he describes). "There's one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing".

King also evokes his college days and his recovery from the van crash that nearly killed him, but the focus is always on what it all means to the craft. He gives you a whole writer's "tool kit": a reading list, writing assignments, a corrected story and nuts-and-bolts advice on dollars and cents, plot and character, the basic building block of the paragraph and literary models. He shows what you can learn from HP Lovecraft's arcane vocabulary, Hemingway's leanness, Grisham's authenticity, Richard Dooling's artful obscenity, Jonathan Kellerman's sentence fragments. He explains why Kellerman's Hart's War is a great story marred by a tin ear for dialogue, and how Elmore Leonard's Be Cool could be the antidote. King isn't just a writer, he's a true teacher. --Tim Appelo, Amazon.com


Absolutely fascinating (Sunday Times)

Not since Dickens has a writer had so many readers by the throat...King's imagination is vast. He knows how to engage the deepest sympathies of his readers...a bizarre and absorbing story, told brilliantly by one of the great storytellers of our time (Guardian)

The childhood memoir is a triumphant display of wit, story-telling and guts. His advice to writers is hard-nosed, practical and level-headed in the classic journalistic Orwell-Hemingway tradition (Evening Standard)

Energetic, vivid and observant (Daily Telegraph)

This is the written equivalent of Delia Smith's How To Cook. And, like British home cooking, the world of popular fiction will be better off for it (The Times)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
160 of 167 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvelous 3 Mar 2006
ON WRITING is better than I thought it would be. It's marvelous. I finished it in less than two days.

In the First Forward, Stephen King observes that popular novelists are never "asked about the language" when queried by admiring fans. Thus, he states:

"What follows is an attempt to put down , briefly and simply, how I came to the craft (of telling stories on paper), what I know about it now, and how it's done. It's about the day job; it's about the language."

In the first hundred or so pages, King shares his experiences growing up in Maine and Connecticut, his marriage, his struggles as a novice writer, and his drug and alcohol problems. King intends this section not as an autobiography, but as a curriculum vitae. It ends with the assignment of the paperback rights to CARRIE, his first novel.

In the next 150 pages, the author describes how he performs his craft. He explains the "tools" of writing (vocabulary and grammar), the creative environment (the room, the door, the determination to close the door, and the music - Hard Rock in King's case), style and formatting (paragraphing, narration, description, and dialogue), and the final stretch to a finished piece (drafts, editing, and proofreading by a trusted friend - wife/author Tabitha in King's case).

The final few pages, in a way, are the most interesting. It's Stephen's account of the road accident in 1999 that inflicted multiple fractures to his ribs and lower body, and the effect the mishap had on his writing. Ironically enough, he'd half completed this book at the time of the incident, and he had to struggle to come back and finish.

Though King was once a high school English teacher, ON WRITING is in no way pedantic, but chatty and informal.
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66 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterclass in the writing life 30 Jun 2005
This is two books in one, yet it isn't. The autobiographical section is not so much a potted history of King's life as a description of his writing apprenticeship - the experiences and emotions, from the stimulants of his childhood imagination to the abuse of stimulants, from the experience of rejection to the experience of survival after being hit by a van.
Writing, King makes clear, isn't simply the ability to do joined up words or type at a keyboard. Writing is about pain and experience, knowledge and emotion, understanding and questioning. Writing is about life ... and if you want to be a good writer, then you must live to write. In the process you may have to fight to survive alcohol and drugs and poverty and loneliness ... and the dangers round that next bend. Even when you've sold your first story, you're never comfortable, never sure it wasn't a fluke and that the next one won't be hurled back in your face.
It's a fascinating insight into King's psyche, one which prepares you for the guidance he offers writers. He puts together a toolkit of advice to motivate and encourage you to write. Much of the toolkit, of course, can be described as words and sweat. If you write, language is your medium. If you want to write well, you have to work at it.
There's a strong motivational element to King's book. He pulls no punches. Not everyone can be a great writer. Everyone might have a novel in them, but not many people have a novel anyone else would want to read. Be realistic about your talent. Appreciate you can improve, can refine your skills and techniques. But, it'll take work, lots of hard work, and you may still never write a masterpiece.
But writing is a process of self-belief and self-fulfilment and self-discovery. It is, only incidentally, a commercial activity.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
"On Writing" Stephen King calls it, but it should read "King's Autobiography Linked to Strunk and White's Rules of Writing." He writes of his early life, an odd herky-jerky experience, he calls it. It is revealing and entertaining, and his hungry fans should adore it. He includes his recent experiences with a car accident that could have proven fatal. Also, his use and abuse of alcohol and drugs.
He shares with us his extraordinary success with Carrie, and it is infectious. We almost cheer when he learns of his huge royalties.
Included is his advice (but hardly a thesis as he calls it) that good writing consists of mastering vocabularly, grammar, and the elements of style. If you are a bad writer, he says, no one can help. If you are competent, it will be a tough road to become good -- but it is possible.
Write a lot, and read a lot is his bottom line -- but scarcely original -- advice to would-be writers.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good kick start 13 Aug 2001
By Theo
I never thought I would sit chuckling over a Stephen King book, but the first half was very funny. Then I found the writing end was inspirational. It made you WANT to read and write and described the writing state of mind so well.
I was talking about the plot free approach to some friends, in a car full of silent kids. They all suddenly started talking at once, when I paraphrased SK's approach to the restraints of plot. They have all felt repressed by the heavy planned out plot system, set out by teachers. I think they will start writing with fresh hope, as I know I will.
This book has made me feel more positive and excited about writing than the 6 others I have read over the last 15 years. There might be a few missing elements, but the germ of inspiration overrules that. That is priceless.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 1 day ago by suzy davies
5.0 out of 5 stars What a beautiful piece of work
Dear Stephen. What a beautiful thing he has done with this book. He sets out in the early stages his commitment to write a book about the process of writing, without any BS in... Read more
Published 2 days ago by Mistress Peg
5.0 out of 5 stars x
Published 12 days ago by travelreader
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 14 days ago by Jorn Haugaard
5.0 out of 5 stars Advice for aspiring fictional writers
I haven't read a Stephen King novel for quite a while, but I received this book as a gift. I'd forgotten how funny the man is, in addition to his undeniable talent for creating... Read more
Published 18 days ago by C. Nicholls
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great gift
Published 22 days ago by susan howard
5.0 out of 5 stars you've gotta/hasta read this!
Loved this insightful, inspiring book On Writing. Not at all boring like most How To Write books and fascinating to hear the thought processes behind many of Stephen's books. Read more
Published 29 days ago by Lou
3.0 out of 5 stars I found the beginning very interesting and then it tailed ...
I found the beginning very interesting and then it tailed off a bit. for me But in saying that there are some pearls of wisdom in this little book
Published 1 month ago by Ms Linda Louisa Dell
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic--and it's fun to read
This is just a classic book. I enjoyed reading it, and learned stuff, too.
Published 1 month ago by J. A. Brown
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant. Gets the point across in a humorous way
Brilliant. Gets the point across in a humorous way. Fascinating insights into the author's life are a joyful bonus. I would recommend this to any budding author of any genre. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Fabmarie
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